Tuesday, September 29, 2015

hope is such a vulnerable emotion

Emily Dickinson wrote about hope as 'that thing with feathers':

Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

~ Emily Dickinson
Sore must be the storm that could abash hope that keeps so many warm is marketedly distinct from J. Alfred Prufrock's take on hope. Or  Eliot's.  I will post The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my next post.

I have sometimes believed that hope is a curse and the curse is its eternal springing. Hope, feathers included, is such a vulnerable emotion. It leads one to dare to hope that things might improve. Things seldom do.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

a $3 check for some coca-cola

The week I graduated from h.s., my parents got divorced. They mostly got divorced on the down-low. By down-low I mean they filed for divorced, kept on living together until the divorce hearing and never told any of their six children a divorce was in our near future.

My father later said he didn't tell us because he never believed mom would go through with a divorce, that she was trying to frighten him into giving up gambling. And you better believe he stopped gambling from the time she filed until the day of the divorce.

I graduated from h.s. on a Sunday and the very next day, just as my mother must have planned it, my parents went to court. My dad had not even hired a lawyer, he was so sure he didn't need one. When he realized mom was going to get a divorce, and that she had a lawyer, he said "your honor, I just don't want to lose my kids. I want custody of my son Tom, the older kids are all heading to college, and I want to my youngest two kids to stay in Illinois."

The judge, trusting my mom because she was under oath, reminded mom she was under oath and asked her if she would agree to not remove the little kids from Illinois. Mom assured the judge she knew she was under oath, assured the judge that she would never take the little kids out of Illinois to live, which, she pointed out for veracity, I guess, would deprive her older children of their youngest siblings as well as deprive their father of the kids.

Then dad went back to work. He had a job, after all. And mom came to the house with the interstate moving truck she had long since hired and removed most of our furniture, including some of the beds of the kids she left behind. Then she disappeared with my youngest two siblings, who had been like my own babies to me. My mom was not really into babies. From age seven on up, my main focus in life was to rush home from school and care for mom's babies. I also had to fix dinner on weekdays, plus do the grocery shopping for those dinners with the youngest kids in tow in a double stroller. I had to grocery shop daily because you can't haul a lot of food with two kids and one stroller. And then I had to iron 30 white dress shirts, and this was before the days of permapress. Let me tell you, I learned how to iron well. And mom inspected those shirts arbitrarily. Those dress shirts were for my four brothers for school days and then for Sunday, plus white shirts for my dad for work and for church. I also ironed five white blouses for myself. And I did this ironing out on the back porch, the enclosed back porch taht served as an extra room. It had a big picture window that overlooked the kitchen so I could iron while keeping my eye both on dinner on the stove and on the little boys and, later, my baby sister who didn't come along until I was 13. I usually kept the babies in the kitchen because the backporch was unheated, a little chilly. Mom pressed me to keep the door to the kitchen closed to save on heat. She said the iron would keep me warm enough, that and the effort to iron and walking back and forth to tend to her babies and her family's dinner.

Yeah, I was her Cinderella.

I believe she didn't tell any of her kids about the divorce because she wanted me babysitting, cooking and doing her laundry right up until the moving truck hauled away my babies. And my bed. I still wonder why she took my bed. In her new life, she needed beds for the two kids she took. Maybe she had intended to take my bed for Tom but Tom was the kid my dad insisted on keeping and mom gave Tom away like one might give away a used paperback novel, which cost ten cents back then. Without blinking, she gave up custody of Tom, leaving him basically alone with our deeply depressed, even deranged father because the three oldest kids reallywe re all off to college that fall.

It was torment for me during the long time I didn't know where my babies were. I used to drink a few beers and then weep to my girlfriends about my lost babies, wondering where they were. I send them many letters in care of my mom's sister, my aunt Margaret, although I never heard, ever, that the kids ever got them.

I learned where the kids were the night before my first spring trimester final, which put the kabosh on studhing that night. I was a wreck. Mom sent me a card, a greeting card that only said "Love, Mother" and then, on the back, where I almost didn't even look, "p.s. I have remarried."  I still didn't know where they were but I knew my babies weren't coming back if she had married someone in another state.

The bitch lied to the judge. The judge got a bit of revenge. My dad would not pay child support until he knew where his kids were. Nowadays that likely wouldn't fly. Men (and noncustodial mothers) have to pay child support no matter what. In 1967, things were looser. My dad went to that judge, crying and said "Your honor, she is taking me to court for that money but she won't tell me where my kids are." The judge was angry that mom had lied under oath. Dad had told him how she had that moving truck lined up as she had lied to the judged under oath, pledging to keep the kids in Illinois. The judge told mom's lawyer, the one she hired to get child support, that if she wanted child support, she would have to show up in his courtroom with the kids and with proof of where they were living.

Mom held out a long time.  Later she claimed she was hiding from dad, afraid he would hurt her. That was baloney.  My dad never hit my mother. Not one single time. He was a flawed human, as we all are. He broke her heart with his gambling, putting her in the awful position of not always being able to feed her kids. And he did molest some of his kids, including me. But her? He worshipped her. He had her on a pedestal until she day he died, which used to piss me off. Every year until he died, he invested more in her Christmas gifts from him than in his gifts for his kids. I mean invested energy. He gave his kids tonso of presents.

I just remembered a not really related story. My dad once actually went to Walgreens on Christmas Day to buy my Christmas gift, a pair of orange Fiskar scissors I still have. I use them every day, actually. And an address book. Walgreens was the only thing open. I had organized gifts for everyone, including dad, with dad funding me. Everyone got what they wanted but when everyone was done tearing open all their many gifts, they all realized, in the same awful moment, that no one -- no one -- had thought to get me anything. So dad said he had to run an errand and asked Chuck the  Fuck, my older brother, to go with him. Chuck the Fuck probably went out of his way to pick bad gifts. Joe should have gone Joe would have picked cologne, some costume jewelry. not scissors. Then dad pretended to sneak the gifts in the house and pretended he had forgotten to lay them out.

What I just remembered was someone I used to know told me, when I shared that scissors from Walgreens story that once his dad had teased him and his siblings when they kept pestering their dad about their Christmas gifts, his dad had said "You don't have to worry, I have gone to Walgreens to get their gifts." Which kinda crushed my friend and his siblings because everyone knows you don't get good gifts at Walgreens.

Walgreens has changed a lot since I was a kid, since I got those Fiskars scissors. They always carried cologne And chocolates.


When I finally learned where the kids were, I wrote to them often. I was a college student, so I never had a lot of cash, okay?  My mom had lots of rules. The kids couldn't buy Doritios and that's what they wanted. And she always had a bug up her ass about soda pop, always forbidding it. My dad never drank alcohol yet mom tried to ban soda pop from the house. My dad got to drink it but not us kids. Mom had a real bug up her ass about soda.

So I used to write the kids checks for $3, in 1973, let's say, with a note that said they could only buy Doritos and Coca-cola. $3 was enough to buy a bag of Doritos and a two-liter bottle of coke. That treat trhilled the kids.

I must have told my daughter that little story because once, at her first college, she created her own performance piece, a blend of dance and talking.  She talked about her mom sending her checks for $3 for some Coke. The line got a great laugh but I felt chagrin. It wasn't $3 in 1998, when she was a freshman in college. $3 in 1998 bought much less than $3 in small town Ohio in 1973. And the kids, my babies, had loved those checks. I guess I never told her I started out sending $2 checks but raised the checks to $3 when the prices of the junk the kids coveted went up.

I love the me who sent those $3 checks with the insistence that the kids could only buy Coca cola and doritos. Nacho flavored, of course.  I loved being able to thrill the kids so easily.

I sent Rosie plenty of checks to college, and bought her lots of things like airfare to visit her girlfriend when she had her lesbian dating phase. For all I know, she is bisexual these days. I don't know who she is. She could be full out lesbian for all I know.

I don't think she should have used my $3 checks to get a cheap laugh at my expense. It was obvious she was talking about her actual mom and everyone thought I was sending her $3 check in 1998. In 1998, I sent her fifty dollar bills and $100 dollar bills. And airfare to visit old friends in California, oney to go to an anthroposophical yough conference in Soquel, CA, money to visit her old friends again in CA. I went way over $3. Not to mention her habit of coming home for the forced weekends off campus when the campus closed and she would help herself to my things, just taking them.

$3 bought two liters of coke and a large bag of Doritos when I sent $3 checks in 1973 to my baby brother and sister.

Silly to remember such a trivial thing. It doesn't matter at all that I did that. Nothing I have ever done for anyone has ever mattered to them. All the folks I am writing about have abandoned me. My baby brother talks to me a couple times a year but usually I have to leave several messagse before he calls me back. I know he forgets to call me back cause he's a drunk. As my friend Lana said last winter when I was at Lana's and trying to coordinate with Dave in Chicago for my upcoming Chicago visit, and Dave never returned my calls, Lana shrugged and said "Addicts!"